1. Vince Carter made a surprise return, and he looked OK. Under normal circumstances, a 5-for-16 showing from Carter would be nothing to write about. But watching him tonight, his 5-for-16 looked more like an off shooting night – rust-related, for sure – rather than a health issue or favoring of the ankle. It was nice to see him play at what looked like close to full strength. Hopefully, he got all the misses out and that shooting average will even out against the Cavs on Wednesday night.
2. Outside of a stretch in the third quarter, the Magic looked really good. The Magic outscored the Bobcats 73-51 in the 1st, 2nd and 4th quarters — the blowout you’d hope for in a game like this. But the Bobcats exploded for 30 points in the third quarter, cutting Orlando’s lead from 16 to 6 and making a game of it entering the final period. The Magic responded with their best defensive quarter of the season, holding the Bobcats to 10 points in the final period. But, still, the third quarter was disheartening and it started to feel like the Magic were letting the game slip from their fingers.
3. Dwight Howard continues to show off his subtle polish. I’ve been saying it all season long… There is something different about Dwight Howard this season. He’s improved every year in the league, and for the most part, those changes have been easy to see and easy to measure — his rebounds have gone up, his points have gone up, his blocks have gone up, etc. This year, though, his raw numbers are similar to that of year’s past. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t improved. He’s handling double-teams noticeably better than he ever has. He’s not forcing the ball to the basket if he hasn’t scored in a while. He’s seeing more of the floor, not just the side he’s on. There’s no doubt that Dwight’s court awareness and vision is improving. That, along with his slightly better free-throw shooting, will mean more fourth-quarter touches in big games.
Initially, the return of Carter should get a big thumbs up from all Magic fans. The Magic have their first big national showcase Wednesday night against the Cavs, and it will be nice to not have the bare-bones lineup, absent of Carter, Rashard Lewis and Ryan Anderson, on display. The Magic’s fourth-quarter defensive performance deserves much praise. Anytime you can hold an NBA team to 10 points in one quarter — especially the fourth quarter in a close game — you have to be happy. Watching the game, I felt a weird sense of confidence that the Magic could stop the Bobcats from scoring at any time. It felt like the only way Charlotte could score if it was on a 3-pointer or some type of long rebound situation. I don’t know how much of that is Orlando’s returning swagger or Charlotte’s offensive ineptitude — but that’s a feeling I can chase. Look at Charlotte's shot chart for the quarter; it has more Xs than Danny Devito.
Charlotte Bobcats, 4th quarter
Also, Brandon Bass’ 12 points in the first quarter, on 6-of-6 shooting, was something else. Deserves mentioning. While we're on the theme, check out his first-quarter shot chart:
Brandon Bass, 1st quarter
He only scored two points after that, though.
Conversely, 36 points in a half is not something Orlando followers are accustomed to seeing. The Magic’s offense went dead in the second half, when it seemed like the Magic couldn’t hit a jumper even when it was open. There really isn’t a lot the Magic did wrong. It’s just they could’ve been better. They’ll continue to get better as the year goes on.